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Cards still in Central mix after uneven 1st half

Martinez continues to emerge as ace; Pham energizes club after May callup
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- For the first time since 2007, the Cardinals reached the All-Star break with a losing record. It was a product of an uneven first half, which featured a 3-9 start and hit a low point in early June with a winless seven-game road trip.

The club's high watermark came on May 14, when the Cardinals sat six games above .500. Their record regressed from there, and the Cardinals have been trying to return to .500 since June 2. They'll enter the second half sitting two games under at 43-45.

ST. LOUIS -- For the first time since 2007, the Cardinals reached the All-Star break with a losing record. It was a product of an uneven first half, which featured a 3-9 start and hit a low point in early June with a winless seven-game road trip.

The club's high watermark came on May 14, when the Cardinals sat six games above .500. Their record regressed from there, and the Cardinals have been trying to return to .500 since June 2. They'll enter the second half sitting two games under at 43-45.

And yet, the Cards will head out on a 10-game road trip later this week knowing a National League Central title is still within reach. Rare as it may be to be bumped from the Wild Card picture while still in contention for the division, the Cardinals have been given an opportunity to correct an otherwise disappointing season in the second half because of the struggles endured by others in their division.

:: 2017 Midterm Report: Complete coverage ::

What went right
Carlos Martinez and Mike Leake emerged as two of the most reliable starting pitchers in the National League. … Yadier Molina hushed conversations about an impending career decline by stringing together two 16-game hitting streaks and earning another All-Star nod. … Tommy Pham found the right contacts to correct a vision problem and parlayed the improved sight into a starting big league job. … The club feasted (18-7) against NL East competition. … Jedd Gyorko emerged as a more-than-capable everyday third baseman and cleanup hitter. … The Cardinals received notable contributions from rookies Magneuris Sierra, Paul DeJong and Luke Voit.

Video: NYM@STL: Martinez rings up Cespedes in the 3rd

What went wrong
The stated offseason priority of improving the defense, baserunning and athleticism did not translate into marked improvement in any of those areas. … The rotation experienced a collective June regression, and Michael Wacha almost pitched his way out of a starting spot with an extended slump. … Plans to feature Aledmys Diaz as a two-hole hitter had to be revised due to the shortstop's disappointing second season. … Randal Grichuk found himself back in the Minors after nearly two months of underwhelming production. … The Cardinals had to consider other closer options after Seung Hwan Oh's up-and-down first half.

What we learned
That the Cardinals may have overestimated the production uptick expected from a number of their young players, including Stephen Piscotty, Grichuk and Diaz. … That a spring focus on fundamentals doesn't necessarily translate into crisper regular-season play. … That Martinez is the current and future ace of this club. … That it's too early to assume Adam Wainwright is over the hill. … That Matt Carpenter, whether he buys into it or not, is best suited in the leadoff spot. … That Pham is worthy of a starting outfield spot.

Video: NYM@STL: Pham lines two-run homer down the line

First-half top everyday player 
After he didn't make the Opening Day roster, Pham joined the club in early May and became a key first-half catalyst. He played superb defense, stood out as one of the team's best baserunners and had consistent offensive production. Pham hit .299/.386/.510 with 11 home runs, 34 RBIs and 42 runs scored.

First-half top pitcher
Though Leake got off to the strongest start, Martinez put together the most complete first half. He earned his first Opening Day start and was rewarded for his strong season with a second All-Star invitation. Martinez posted a 3.40 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP, a .213 opponents' batting average and 128 strikeouts in 116 1/3 innings.

Video: STL@COL: DeJong belts a homer in his first MLB at-bat

First-half top rookie
DeJong's quick climb through the system culminated with a late May callup to St. Louis. He opened his Major League career with a home run and took over as the everyday shortstop toward the end of the first half. In the final series of the first half, DeJong homered in all three games and became the first shortstop in franchise history to record four extra-base hits in a game.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter, and Facebook.

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